Ahlers Fellow Kayla Meijer: Intersession Abroad in Argentina

Over Intersession 2015, Kayla Meijer, an Ahlers Fellow majoring in International Business, studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Having taken away so much from her short time in Argentina, Kayla shared her many experiences and lessons learned abroad…

“Traveling to Argentina has been a dream of mine ever since the first day I arrived on campus as a freshman. I had friends who had gone there for study abroad and it seemed to me like the most amazing and unique place I could ever go. I finally got the opportunity when a class on the Latin American Business Environment (BUSN 494) was being offered in Buenos Aires over Intersession of 2015. It seemed like fate for me because I now had the prerequisites and it was in the place I had been hoping to go for years. It was my first time traveling internationally without my only world traveling companion, my mom, but I was excited. It would be a chance for me to apply all the travel skills she has taught me over the years and allow me to grow as an individual like never before (it also helped to know that she was going to come meet me at the end of my class so that we didn’t miss out on this adventure together).

I had booked a flight that landed at 1:00am in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and thought that this arrival time was not only a bit strange, but was also going to give me all sorts of problems. Turns out I was in for a big surprise when I learned that in this culture the time schedule was VERY different than it is the states. I ended up having quite a few dinners starting at midnight during my stay, which was just unheard of to me previously.

Another aspect to my trip that was unexpected but truly amazing was the new friend and Argentine family that basically adopted me during my stay. My now good friend Catie was traveling to Argentina for the class, but also to see her fathers’ side of the family that lives down there and that she rarely gets to see. Not only was Catie incredibly nice, she even let me hang out with her and her family, who treated me like I was just another member of the family. It was so refreshing to be a part of a family that was so accepting, welcoming, and warm, and it really spoke volumes to me about the country I was in; I was falling for Argentina fast.

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My new Argentine family showed us all the good places to shop, eat, and tour while we were there, which was extremely helpful so that we maximized the short time we were there. In particular, my favorite experience by far on the trip was the night that Catie and I visited their first apartment (now office) to have empanadas and pizza on their gorgeous deck with the entire family. I not only learned a lot about this family, but of the culture as an extension, because they were so open and willing to talk to us about anything we wanted to know that we heard about in class. Lucky for us as well, they all spoke excellent English!

The business class itself was extremely interesting because it was so dynamic; we took a trip to the only Walmart in Buenos Aires to learn about the challenges a successful U.S. company faces abroad, had a variety of guest speakers, and also used case studies as our main mode of conversation and understanding of the Latin American Business Environment.

Walmart was really quite a wakeup call for us as undergrads, because it really hit home that just because a company can succeed in the U.S. does not mean it will succeed abroad. In fact, Walmart Argentina was failing miserably because the business model it was built upon does not apply in many other countries. Sure it’s always better to save money in stores, but what about when the population does not have the disposable income for the things sold at Walmart, or the space for things bought in bulk or the transportation to a megastore location? This was eye opening to a lot of us who hadn’t really considered these problems before, and allowed us to have conversations about why companies fail abroad and talk about their solutions or approaches to solving this. For example, Walmart decided that because people couldn’t afford and didn’t need the bulk sizes or the superstore, they tried a chain of smaller convenience-like stores that saw a bit more success. They also learned that the locals were coming to the store to eat at the restaurants inside, not necessarily to shop, and as such made a larger food court to keep their customers coming back, even if it wasn’t for their intended purpose.

Walmart Argentina

Though I have only touched on the tip of the iceberg of knowledge that was this trip and course, the most important thing I learned was that as a business person just entering into my career, I can never assume I know anything about a country until I have really put in the time and energy to get to know its people, history, and economics. While this may sound obvious to some, I think it is largely ignored in the business world today, causing many problems for businesses abroad and also for our own culture having a reputation as ignorant and aloof. It is important for us as the next generation to be mindful of how we interact in the business world, because every country is unique in its own way and deserves our attention, thought, and respect when entering it with our products and services. While it would be possible to write a novel about my experiences for just 3 weeks in one country, I think it would be much more beneficial for you to go out and experience it for yourself, so book a flight and I’ll meet you in Buenos Aires!”

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